The need for an interdisciplinary team

To practice at our maximum potential, we need to collaborate with a team of specialists and technicians. How do we form a team which truly works in partnership with us and supports our efforts?

To practice at our maximum potential, we need to collaborate with a team of specialists and technicians. How do we form a team which truly works in partnership with us and supports our efforts? We begin (and end) with finding and developing mutually rewarding relationships with great people ... people who are highly skilled and like-minded. The most success-producing relationships are those formed with others who share our core beliefs and basic vision, and who also understand the value of basing their actions and decisions on them.

Early in my career, I met a periodontist, Dr. L. K. Croft. We began working together, and I benefited greatly form observing how he interacted with our patients. In one appointment, he would learn more about them than I had in all of our previous appointments. He was focused only on the things that could be successful and which would be beneficial to the patient. His surgical technique was gentle and precise, and coupled with his caring, professional attitude, he quickly gained respect and admiration from all the periodontal patients I referred to him. The privilege of joining forces with such a fine person and clinician meant a lot to me. I enjoyed the relationship with L. K. and truly believed in his philosophy. My patients could feel the confidence I had in him, and that made all the difference. Over time, he became one of my best referral sources, and we experienced true collaboration.

Building on that success, I began creating similar relationships with other specialists and technicians. To facilitate that, I take great care in referring each patient. The process begins by edifying or building up the prospective specialist in the patient's mind. Prior to the patient and specialist meeting, I transfer the trust and confidence I have in that doctor. I then send a thorough letter of introduction to the specialist. When appropriate, this is followed by an in-person meeting with the specialist to review the case. Many times, this has resulted in a joint consultation with the patient. To further build relationships, I sometimes host a team-to-team interaction, such as a luncheon, for the sole purpose of learning more about each other and how to best serve our patients in a united way.

Our endodontic specialists are right across the hall from our office. They do beautiful and meticulous work. When we receive the post-treatment letter, I make an effort to go across the hall and compliment them on the results. I let them know how much I appreciate what they do. In the same manner, I call my lab technician, Bob, to share with him how exceptional his work is and how much I value his diligence in seeking perfection with each of his cases.

One way of adding structure to your relationship with each specialist is to work out a protocol about how you work together and who is responsible for what in patient care. Having a working agreement establishes more certainty and accountability. I believe taking the time to have discussions and develop a protocol leads to better outcomes. For example, in an implant case, my surgeons know that I will do a wax-up and make a surgical, emergence, and radiographic guides. It is my responsibility to provide those items in a timely manner. It is their responsibility to use them and place the implants accordingly. If they can't place the implants in the determined locations because of inadequate bone, they then augment the site and delay the implant placement accordingly.

One of the greatest joys of my practice life is the superb group of clinicians and technicians who I collaborate with on behalf of our patients. We share purpose and vision in serving our mutual patients at the highest level, and we trust and appreciate each other's work. We see ourselves as an interdisciplinary team, and we take time to communicate about each patient. If you haven't developed such a team and don't feel that joy, my advice is to run - not walk - toward building that kind of team. The rewards will exceed the effort many times over.

Dr. Edwin A. McDonald graduated from the University of Texas Dental Branch at Houston in 1980. He has been in private practice in Texas since 1983. Dr. McDonald serves on the Board of Directors and is a Visiting Faculty member of The Pankey Institute. He is a Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry. He is a member of the American Dental Association, Texas Dental Association, American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and the Texas Academy of Dental Practice Administration, where he served as president. He lectures and presents to study groups throughout the United States. He can be reached at mcdonalddds@hotmail.com.

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